It was a Christmas the Chittick family would never forget.
In 1993, Narrandera resident David Chittick arrived home to find someone had broken into his house.
It didn’t take long for him to realise an old tobacco box passed on by his mother Shirley, filled with jewellery and war medals awarded to his great uncle and father, were stolen.
Over the years memories of the stolen war medals faded – until now.
About 25-years later and 345km away, leading senior Constable Matthew Johansen was called out on the Federal Highway near Yarra.
It was around lunchtime on February 8 when Constable Johansen, along with a member of highway patrol, searched the vehicle of a male driver who triggered the police’s automated plate recognition system.
The pair found a bag behind the driver’s seat, in it were war medals.
Constable Johansen determined the medals were stolen after the driver admitted none of his family served in the war.
After a quick google search Constable Johansen discovered the engraving ‘T C Harward’ stood for Thomas Charles Harward.
Hours on multiple archive sites taught Constable Johansen that Thomas Charles Harward (1884-1964) was issued a British War Medal and United Kingdom Victory Medal for his services in World War 1.
His nephew, James Ernest Chittick (1928-1984), was also awarded The 1945-1975 Australian Service Medal for his services in World War 2.
During the final years of his life Thomas resided with James and wife Shirley Chittick on a farm in Warrawidgee west of Griffith.
Constable Johansen first found information on Harward’s land in the Murrumbidgee area, than his obituary and finally a family tree of the Harward-Chittick family online.
It took two days for the constable to join the dots, with the help of Lieutenant-Colonel Glyn Llanwarne who reunites lost medals to families.
“It didn't take me long to connect the Harward and Chittick names. Harward's wife was Mary Jane Lillian Chittick. They married in the mid 1930s but I couldn't find evidence that they had any children,” Lieutenant-Colonel Llanwarne said.
On February 19, David Chittick, who now lives in Canberra, collected the four orphaned medals and coin from the Goulburn Police station.
He was ten when his great uncle died.
“When we received the phone call we thought it was some sort of hoax. Mum was just so surprised it showed up... it was gone for so long, no one knew where they’d been,” Mr Chittick said.
“I’m gobsmacked I’ve got to say, it’s quite unusual the medals showing up 25-years later. [Constable Johansen] went above the call of duty. I’m extremely impressed.”
Mr Chittick nominated suspects for the break and enter in 1993 to Constable Johansen but nothing was found.
“What those guys went through to be awarded those medals… I can’t even begin to imagine. I had a chance to repay their services by getting the medals back to the family,” Constable Johansen said.
“What we did was nothing compared to what those guys did.”
Hume Police District officer in charge John Sheehan described Constable Johansen’s work as “exceptional”.
Now the family medals are housed in a safe with Mr Chittick.
“To have them back, now they have a lot more significance,” he said.
“I’d love to know where they’ve been – if only the medals could talk.”